Sailing with the chairman of the S&S Association
A tale of friendship, engine surgery and ‘Landing Beers’ during a delivery from Italy to Greece
In the summer of 2018, I sailed my Swan 65 Peak, from the Tuscan coast near Elba via the Corinth Channel to the Greek Dodecanese Island of Samos. The trip was basically a delivery trip, i.e. all paid for by a charterer who wanted Peak based in Patmos for 30 days starting mid-July.
Rob and I have done several of these trips already, actually it is also how we met in 2014. Back then, we sailed Peak from her base in Scarlino to Amsterdam. Rob started as a paying crew, since I explained to him I need to have paying guests on board to make ends meet. Soon I appreciated his qualities as sailor, technician and work-aholic friend. So as long as I make sure we have a ‘landing-beer’ upon arrival, all is well for him.
The trip started with 2 paying passengers, Tiziana and Vittorio, a couple in their 60’s from Bolzano, Italy, not accustomed to sailing. Rob was worried, I was not. Tiziana saw the galley and immediately fell in love. Together we went shopping and off we went.
After a 50 nm sail we anchored off the coast of Porto Santo Stefano, unable to go ashore. Tirziana prepared dinner and we set out to discuss the forthcoming trip. We had 11 days to get to Siracuse in Sicily.
Next morning we left for the island of Ponza. In the summer months one is not allowed to anchor in the bay near the harbor, so we had to inflate the dinghy to get ashore. It had been a long sail so when we set foot in the old port, Rob immediately entered a local enecota and the two of us set down for our ‘landing-beer’ which was a local wine. Of course, we ordered some seafood with the local pasta.
Winds were light next morning as we left for Ischia. Again I was surprised with the lack of anchorage space available. During summer months many areas are forbidden or one has to use laid mooring buoys, which are not always suited for our 41-tonne yacht. In any case Rob and I found a beautiful anchorage underneath the “Castello Aragonese” with just about enough space to turn on our anchor. The guardia costiere was already controlling the waters, but we were ok. Others were asked to leave. We inflated the dinghy, went ashore and visited the magnificent castle with its surrounding views, including Peak with its mizzen anchor sail up.
We stayed another couple of days in the Gulf, visiting -with jacket and tie - the Reale Yacht Club Canottieri Savoia, where we were reminded that one of their famous members, Vincenco Onorato, owns the last build Swan 65 Mascalzone Latino. On our way out we anchored off Capri on the south side in full view of the Faraglioni rocks, which we visited with the dinghy. We also found time to travel up to Anacapri in time to visit the beautiful house and gardens of Axel Munthe, best known as the author of The Story of San Michele.
The four of us got along fine and Rob and I were enjoying surprising meals made by our ‘paying’ guest Tirziana. She truly loved cooking and being able to cook for 3 men at the same time made her really happy. After a full day we finally relaxed on Peak, when we realized the weather opened up a small calm window necessary for us to anchor off Stromboli. I had visited Stromboli before on one of my journeys but remembered vividly the huge swell we encountered coming back with our dinghy after a late dinner. So this time we settled for a deep anchoring spot and called a ‘omergiatore’ to take us ashore. We booked the organized walking tour to go up the volcano.
It looked like a fun thing to do. Vittorio and Tirziana, were clearly up to the task, coming from the mountains in the North of Italy themselves. For Rob and me it meant suffering. To my great surprise people in our group found the energy to continue, even though it was close to 35 Celsius and dust got into our lungs. After almost 4 hours of steep climbing, not for the fainthearted, we reached the top. We had to put on our mouth protectors and helmets and enjoyed the sunset whilst the volcano roared from time to time. Impressive.
Even more impressive was the decent. We had to slide down the very steep side of the volcano, which was covered with lava. The 2 hour walk down seemed never ending and because of the knee-deep lava we walked slow-motion-like. No fun to me.
What was fun, was that all participants compared pictures taken from the blasting volcano, to see who had the best. Luckily for me there was internet, enabling me to photoshop a picture from 2006, into my collection. All were impressed.
Next morning, we set sail for Messina, and thereafter to the bay of Siracusa which is truly a natural harbor, and we enjoyed the area to the fullest. However just before arriving we felt the thrust in our engine slow down. At that moment we were still unsure what our problem was. We entered the marina and used fuel maneuvering in the very small port with lots of wind. Compliments all over. Seamen at work.
We had a change of crew. One Italian lady joined, and the sailing was up to me and Rob. From Siracusa it is a 320 nm trip to Patras in Greece and in preparation for our departure we anchored in the bay. At that time we realized it was the old Borg Warner transmission which was leaking. No possibility to have it repaired and after judging the speed of the leak, I set out to fetch us 10 liters of special transmission oil. It proved to be quite a difficult thing to do on a Sunday afternoon, but after finding a lift on a tender and walking a good 15 kilometers, I managed.
The wind was picking up and became north 30 to 35 knots. After the first few hours stabilizing our seasick passenger, we took away the yankee and put up the staysail, putting one reef in the main and one in the mizzen. The wind angle was 40 degrees max, allowing us to use the autopilot and - in the case of Rob - have some little naps behind the wheel.
Here I feel I should explain why, in the midst of strong wind and gusts up to 40 knots, I still felt very much at ease even though I knew Rob was sometimes sleeping. The fact is, he is one of the few people I know of who can really feel what is going on. One or two small 1 degree adjustment beeps by Rob on the autopilot were all I needed to hear to sleep well. And I slept well.
The wind stayed with us for the next 40 hours and only died down some 20 miles before Patras. We started the engine in support, but soon found that the thrust became less and less, and the heat was building up. Therefore we used every possible sail we could find to sail the last miles. Just in front of the harbor we contacted the authorities and communicated our engine problems. As a result we were refused entry until the next morning. I called again, saying we were able to maneuver again and we were allowed entry. What I did not mention was that we were entering under sail. It proved quite a challenge to moor safely with the once again strong wind, but luckily we are accustomed to the 41-tonne momentum of Peak.
This was Monday evening and the plan was for me to arrive in Samos, a normally a good 3 to 4 day sailing away, the upcoming Sunday evening. Rob was supposed to leave from Athens and I was getting my deckhand/cook, Alessandra, for the charter season on board.
Early Tuesday morning I arranged for an engineer to come and look at the transmission. We already concluded it needed to get a complete overhaul and that could only happen if we were able to take it to a tooling shop. Thus we needed to move the engine 12 cm forward. We could not move the shaft for risk of sinking. The engineer mentioned some outrageous number, but at the same time said it would take him a week to move the engine forward and a week to move it backward again. All this he worked out with Rob, while I was trying to find a retooling shop.
And then it happened. Rob saw my despair. This was serious. My whole charter season, which I need to cover some of the maintenance costs of Peak, was standing at risk. The Italian gentleman who was going to charter her for 30 days was so far understanding, but still expecting me to arrive on Sunday. Rob said: ‘we are going to lift and move your Perkins 115HP main engine from 1973 ourselves’…‘and we are going to do it today!’
Few words were spoken after that. Rob was the surgeon, I was the operation assistant. He worked uninterrupted for hours on end. Lying on his stomach stretching with his long hands to undo a fixing bolt. Measuring and judging the hoist. I arranged a hoist via halyards and the main boom. We bought chains to steady the engine in balance, and at last we built a hoist for the transmission itself. The engine weight is some 560 kilo’s and the transmission close to 80kg.
At 11:45 pm on Tuesday the transmission was out and it was time for a beer.
The transmission is out!
Next morning I left at 05:00 AM for Athens. The tooling shop I found had one page on the internet where I could barely read its address. No phone number and no email. I arrived at 08:30 AM. The owner came a few minutes later, Yannis. He could not speak English. He looked at the transmission in the car booth, acknowledged it and took me for a coffee. I showed him the original manual from 1973. He smiled. He dismantled the transmission with no words. Oil was gushing out of it as he was examining every piece which came off. He would grumble something and shake his head and then he tossed the part on the floor. Or he would say ‘ehh ehh’ and put it in a cardboard box for inspection later. Some items were considered ‘ok’ and put on a pile. Then I had to wait. After 2 hours and several phone calls he wrote down that the cost would be €1400. When I asked if that meant today, he shook his head.
I tried to help his decision making by offering another €500 if he could do it the same day. He did not react and so I left for the two and a half hour drive back to Patras. Already on the toll motorway past the Corinth channel I got a phone call. A customer of Yannis, who spoke English. He asked me what the + €500 meant. ‘Fixed today’ I told him and after a silence he told me to return at 20:00 PM to the shop. So I drove back to Athens. Found a way to get some €2000 in cash and climbed the Acropolis in the heat of the day.
When I arrived at the shop the transmission was being pressure checked and finished. I felt they had done a proper job. The owner sat down and started to shuffle with numbers once again. I feared the worst. He showed me the total was only €1200 and on top of that he refused the €500 bonus. Instead I had to take him and his worker for a cold beer next door.
Thursday morning Rob and I set out to install the transmission and set the engine in line with it. Late in the evening we finished. Rob was very tired, so was I. Wednesday evening Alessandra had arrived, a nice-looking Italian lady, which helped to recover Rob’s spirit.
Testing the transmission was done by setting sail for the Corinth Channel which we passed Friday evening.
We anchored on the east side and then Rob decided to sail all the way with us to Samos. Wind forecast was North North East, 20 to 30 knots. Peak enjoyed the strong warm winds in Greece and we soon settled into a steady powerful reach. By Saturday evening the winds were increasing so we decided to anchor in pitch darkness allowing us to catch some sleep. Alessandra and I took up the anchor after a few hours’ sleep and sailed Sunday morning from Mykonos straight to Samos. Winds easily in the 35 knots range, but this time with a favorable 45-degree wind angle.
Rob woke up late afternoon from our shouts. Many dolphins were welcoming us, wonderful. We arrived safely in Samos, managed to berth and greeted the Italian gentleman who was already waiting for us.
Rob and I had our landing beer and I felt proud and emotional to have him as a friend.